At the end of 2011, it seemed like social issues were making their way back onto the Canadian public agenda (“Has the abortion issue been reopened in Canada and what does this mean for social movements?”).” The beginning of the year saw what Lawrence Martin (Dec 27th Globe and Mail) called a “A banner year for the new conservative agenda.” This lead me in my Jan. 10th post (“The new conservative political opportunity in Canada and the Office of Religious Freedom“) to think about a new conservative political opportunity in Canada. We have seen key issues surface: the pipeline, abortion, gay marriage rights, and more recently, small government. But this new conservative public agenda has not gone without backlash . Indeed, the conservative political opportunity has also become an opportunity for a variety of activist mobilization: from environmentalists to more recently, senior citizens.
Recently, the Conservative Harper government unveiled its new budget which among other things, saw the firing of thousands of civil servants and the increase of the retirement age to 67. One Globe and Mail article (March 29, 2012) refers to “Minding the Gap” and a “generational battle brewing over the budget.” The article goes on to say that “Students are concerned about high tuition costs, and those in their late 20s and 30s worry about an impenetrable housing market and weak job prospects – which they blame, in part, on baby boomers. Seniors and those nearing retirement, on the other hand, were concerned about upcoming reforms to Old Age Security.”
Concerns about the budget have translated into small demonstrations. A group of 16 interrupted the Finance Minister’s budget speech delivered in the House of Commons. As Galloway of the Globe and Mail writes (March 29, 2012), “Wearing identical tee shirts, they stood in the visitor’s gallery and shouted ‘Where are we in the budget?’ as Mr. Flaherty delivered his annual financial plan on Thursday afternoon.”
According to polls, Canadians are concerned with spending and prefer to see some cutbacks (which this budget promises to deliver), but in terms of James Stimson’s public mood pendulum, has this budget forced the pendulum to swing the other way? Is this the reaction or overreaction to a policy that is too conservative? Although small, the kind of demonstration that took place in the House of Commons may send signals to some members of the Liberal Party and NDP that becoming more aggressive against Conservative policy initiatives may appeal to their voters. It may possibly encourage something more drastic, like bringing down the government, which is at least now more palatable now than it was a few months ago.